Megnut

Food

Made up baking with kids

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Recently Ollie's been talking about a time he lived "in England." Whenever he begins a sentence with "In England..." I know he'll follow with something that displays his independence and self-sufficiency. Often the stories are about cooking, and he'll tell me about things he baked in England. Sometimes there are adventures with his cousins, Strawberry and Pumpkin, with whom he lived, and he had some jobs and drove a lot as well. But mostly it's about cooking.

Lately I indulge his "In England" baking stories and we recreate his favorite recipes. He instructs me on the ingredients he used to create things like "Honeychrists", a kind of inedible biscuit like hardtack, and "Chocolate Chip Cookie Muffins", which we baked on Sunday.

After the honeychrists episode, I've tried to direct a little more, so these muffin cookies were actually edible and quite tasty. Half-way through the measuring, I got a great idea. Ratio, a book and iPhone app by Michael Ruhlman gives you the ratios for ingredients for all kinds of recipe, would be perfect for this situation. (Though he doesn't have "cookie muffin" listed).

In the future I can guide Ollie knowing the ratios, so if he wants muffins, I can measure 5 ounces of flour and liquid, and 2.5 ounces eggs and butter. He can add the spices or food coloring or chocolate chips, whatever else he wants, and I can be assured that the resulting baked good will probably be edible. I'm looking forward to trying this out, as it's been so much fun to do this crazy baking with Ollie.

Funny thing about the chocolate chip muffin cookies: they were edible! And because I added baking powder and baking soda, they were puffy cookies, soft and kind of doughy, wide-spread on the sheet and mounded in the middle. Just like you'd expect a "muffin cookie" to be!

I'm honored to be a judge in this year's Piglet Tournament of Cookbooks over at Food 52. My review of Good to the Grain vs Heart of the Artichoke ran yesterday. A perfect Thanksgiving post. And two great cookbooks. It was really a great experience to participate. Thanks Food 52!

The pastry bag

We don't let Ollie watch any TV and his computer/iPad/iPhone screen time is regulated. But when he gets the iPad, one of his favorite things to do is watch YouTube videos, which he picks from ones I've favorited. At some point I favorited a video of a woman making a fire truck cake because it's similar to the one I made for Ollie's 2nd birthday. He's watched this one, and many related cake-making videos, more than anything else. Often he mentions "Laurie Gaylin" when we're in the kitchen, and I had to ask, "Who's that?" Turns out she's the woman making all the cakes in his videos. Here's the fire truck cake:

So Sunday morning I was running around the house, trying to get stuff done before friends came over to watch the Super Bowl. Talking half to myself and half to Ollie, I said, "I've got to find my pastry bag!" because I wanted to pipe the deviled egg filling into the whites. (This may seem like overkill but it's way easier and faster than trying to get that yolky glue off a spoon.)

Ollie casually says, "Or a freezer bag."

"What?" I ask him, not understanding what he's even talking about.

"Or a freezer bag," he repeats to me. "Laurie Gaylin says you can use a pastry bag or a frosting bag or just a freezer bag."

Fellow bakers, your mouth must have dropped when you read that sentence, as mine did when he said it. The kid is really learning something from all those videos.

(Turns out her name is Laurie Gelman, and she's the host, not the baker. But who quibbles with a three year old?)

Eating well and working less

Great "A Food Manifesto for the Future" from Mark Bittman containing some concrete suggestions to improve the food supply and with it, the health, of Americans. But I really liked comment #2: I can't imagine how Americans can possibly eat well until they are working less hours. I've been meaning to write about this for ages and am so glad to see someone else raise this issue. In all the discussion of obesity and diabetes, no one seems to mention how much time it takes to cook good food, and how hard that is when both parents are working and commuting long distances. I easily spend ninety minutes a day cooking for my family. Nearly every day. I'm lucky to have the time to do it.

That said I did read recently that Americans watch an average of thirty-four hours of TV a week. If that's true then clearly there's some wiggle room in the day for proper cooking, right?

An easy baby shower

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I threw a baby shower for a close friend over the weekend and I'm so pleased with how the recipes turned out, I thought I'd share. It was a "Ladies Tea" theme, without the tea and without much more theme than simply that. But here's what we had:

Cucumber Mint Tea Sandwiches
Chicken Salad Tea Sandwiches (the taragon made these special)
Smoked Salmon and Endive Tea Sandwiches
Goat Cheese and Watercress Tea Sandwiches
Fruit Salad with Ginger Syrup

For drinks I made a sparkling pink lemonade (frozen concentrate and seltzer, voila!) and served a sparkling rose wine. But the highlight was dessert: a Lavender Lemon Bundt Cake. This was actually suggested by my son Ollie (not the flavor, the bundt idea) because he pointed out we wouldn't need to use the mixer for frosting (though we did need it for the cake, much to his disappointment...). He sure was prescient because Sunday morning as I was scrambling to get everything prepared, I sure wouldn't have enjoyed making a layer cake and whipping buttercream. And I didn't have the time.

For flowers I used baby food jars with the labels removed and tied with some twine around the top. I filled them with dusty pink roses from the deli around the corner. They looked fancy though! All in all it was a beautiful, delicious afternoon. And when I get a chance, I'll try and share a photo.

Oh! And I almost forgot: I made half pints of strawberry jam for all the ladies to take home as presents.

Looking for a great, easy summer soup for supper? Cucumber and Avocado Soup (you've gotta scroll down to it) is so yummy and easy to make that I'm going to make it three or four times a week this summer. Yes it's that tasty, and you wouldn't think so with how healthy is. Win win.

Felled by the Pine Nut Mouth

I made Straw and Hay Fettuccine Tangle on Saturday night (btw Heidi's Super Natural Cooking is awesome, I love it!) for dinner. Monday for lunch I ate the leftovers, including a bunch of whole pine nuts that had fallen to the bottom of the dish. By Tuesday evening I had a weird taste in the back of my throat, so weird that when I when I woke up during the night, I couldn't get back to sleep. Was is the allergy pill I'd taken for the first time this year? The strong cheese and rind I ate for dinner? The strong wine that accompanied it?

By yesterday the strange taste hadn't abated, despite multiple teeth brushings and flossings, tongue scrapings, and mouthwash swirlings. I turned to Twitter for guidance. And almost immediately people replied asking if I'd eaten pine nuts recently. At first I ignored, but as more people mentioned, I was curious. Then someone said to Google "Chinese pine nuts" and lo a diagnosis: Pine Nut Mouth! (aka "Pine Mouth" or "Pine Nut Syndrome") Seems that there are a lot of pine nuts on the market these days imported from China and they're causing people to get a metallic taste in the back of the throat after ingesting, sometimes lasting up to two weeks!

I'm happy to report my case is resolving and I actually enjoyed my breakfast, but until today food's been so off-putting, I haven't wanted to eat. My pine nuts were from Whole Food's bulk bin, and I stored them in the fridge. They didn't taste rancid when I prepared them, so I'm not thinking it's rancidity-related. I'm going to go back and investigate where they're from to confirm China. And if I can bare to eat pine nuts again this summer, I'm splurging for Italian imports. Right now, that's a big if.

Lazy jam is a relative term

On Wednesday I began the 3-day journey that is making a Christine Ferber jam and by Friday afternoon had four pints of "Strawberry with Pinot Noir and Spices". On Thursday I was able to bang out 7 1/2 pints of traditional strawberry jam like I make with my grandmother. I realized that this doesn't sound very lazy, but if you know how to do something, it's not hard. And somehow I equate not hard with lazy I guess. Regardless, it was lots of fun and I'm really looking forward to making many different jams and preserves this summer, "putting up" lots of the Greenmarket's bounty for fall and winter.

A couple notes: I didn't bother with Ferber's Green Apple Jelly for pectin (I can't be bothered to make jelly to make jam), I just used half a package of pectin (since Ferber's recipe called for approximately half the berries and sugar of a Certo pectin recipe). Jam set fine so I think if I make more of Ferber's jams (which I'd like to) I'll just sub store-bought pectin instead.

I tried the "fancy" jam (as Ollie calls the Pinot and Spice) with my English muffin this morning. You know what? I like my plain old Grandma Pete's traditional better.

I also made a rhubarb compote (1 cup chopped rhubarb, 1/2 cup sugar, juice of half an orange and its zest, I think...) that I've been putting on pancakes. So good!! And a little trick on the pancakes I pulled yesterday that no one seemed to notice: I sub'd 1 cup of AP flour for whole wheat pastry flour (inspired by an awesome banana muffin recipe I've been making that I'll tell you about soon) and the pancakes were still delicious, and I like to think a tiny bit healthier.

So yeah, I've been busy. And I didn't even tell you about everything I did in the garden today!

Some lazy jam making coming up

If you've read this site for a while, you know I've got a thing about strawberries and making jam. Today Ollie and I bought four quarts of berries at the Union Square Greenmarket so we could make some jam together. Looking perhaps to break with tradition, I opened Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber for some different recipes. Oooh, "Rhubarb and Whole Strawberries" seemed like just the thing! Until this:

The third day, bring this mixture to a boil 5 times. Do this sequence again four times at 8-hour intervals.

What?! Am I making jam or birthing a newborn jam baby?! Rhubarb's going to be a simple compote for yogurt and ice cream, not even canned. For the strawberries I'm thinking it's either "Strawberry with Pinot Noir and Spices", adapted for my lazy one-day jam technique, or the basic Strawberry Jam I always make with my grandmother.

My copy of Forgotten Skills of Cooking: The Time-Honored Ways are the Best - Over 700 Recipes Show You Why by Darina Allen arrived today and I'm very excited to get started with it. Foraging for seaweeds and shellfish looks especially up my alley. And as I read the introduction I puffed up a bit with pride. The author complains of so many young people who don't know basic things (like butter comes from cream!) about where food comes from or what it looks like in its natural state. I realized that in his short life, Ollie's picked asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, black raspberries, rhubarb and (not ripe) blackberries. Not bad for a just 3 years old New York City native.

Catching razor clams

I've dug/raked for my fair share of shellfish (oysters, steamers, littlenecks and mussels) but I'd never harvested razor clams. I've seen their shells all over the beaches, but until a few years ago never realized people ate them. Then I had them roasted with butter and garlic at St. John's in London and fell in love! While reading my new Forgotten Skills of Cooking I learned a simple way to catch razor clams: pour salt in their hole and watch them wriggle out!

That's crazy! I can't wait to try it! Also if anyone knows a good source for buying razor clams in New York City, please let me know. I want to start eating them more regularly.

Dinner plan for this evening is a recommendation from Adriana: Capellini with Fresh Ricotta. Looks easy and sounds delicious. I only wish Ollie and I had time to make the fresh ricotta ourselves. I really want to make cheese with him, seems like it would be a fun cooking project. I guess if we like the recipe we'll plan to do that next time.

Was the change in fish consumption recommendations influenced by cash? Until recently, experts recommended women of childbearing age eat no more than 12 ounces of fish a week, and no more than 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna, because of high levels of mercury. But recently a new recommendation was released encouraging the consumption of at least 12 ounces of fish a week, the logic being that omega-3 consumption was important and outweighed the possible mercury risks. Now the New York Times is reporting that money from the seafood industry may be behind the new recommendations. Guh, and I was just about to go back to eating the nice albacore tuna too.

Attention New York City-area readers, tomorrow night at the NYPL there's "a discussion of the complex legacy of Julia Child." Julia Child in America will feature culinary historians David Kamp, Molly O'Neill and Laura Shapiro, chef Dan Barber, and journalist and former Cullman Fellow Melanie Rehak as moderator.

Are they breakfast cupcakes?

Normally I'm not one for muffins in the morning, but there's something about cranberry muffins (especially when they have a hint of orange and they don't have nuts) that I love. The other day I spied a package of them at Whole Foods on sale so I bought them. And each of the past few mornings have been delightful, until my husband said, "Muffins? Isn't that just like eating cake for breakfast?"

Now in my heart I know that's not true, but it's hard to argue with him. Muffins do seem to be really sweet whenever you buy them at a coffee shop. I have a sense they've gotten sweeter over the years, going from a bread-like treat with fruit to a cupcake-like treat without frosting. I'm trying to remember what muffins were like when I was younger. Were they sweet? Sort of sweet? And now, are muffins really as bad as having cake for breakfast? Because I'm really craving a cranberry-orange muffin!

Cooking for Minna

I've been really getting into cooking again, which is a good thing for Minna because it means I've been making lots of yummy things for her to eat. As I type a big batch of Chicken, Sweet Potatoes and Apple is bubbling on the stove. This was one of my favorites for Ollie because it just tasted so yummy! I've also made roasted sweet potatoes and broccoli -- just puree them together with butter and a little milk.

But I think the best I've made yet is my "New England Special" as I call it: baked squash and apples. I cut an acorn squash in half and put on a baking sheet. I took an apple, cored it, and filled the hole with raisins, cinnamon, and butter. Roasted both in oven until soft and tender, then ran through food mill. Very tasty!

At dinner she usually eats some of what we're having, but these foods, frozen in little cubes, are handy for lunch when she's out and about, or if we're not eating an easy dinner for sharing.

Dear Advertisers in Gourmet Magazine,

Wow! As I flipped through the October 2007 Gourmet, I couldn't help but be struck by the great looks of your new products. As someone who's in the process of renovating her kitchen, I'm on the lookout for things to buy. And as you purchased advertising space in a magazine about food, I suspect you're interested in reaching me in the hopes I may buy your sinks and stoves and refrigerators. Alas, you have failed.

ELKAY, your new Avado Collection looks great. But why no mention of it whatsoever on your website? You know, the one you offer the link to in your ad? And Kenmore, you announce an entirely new line of appliances called Kenmore PRO, but the URL you give me redirects to your front page. Only with some poking around can I even locate the PRO line, and when I do, it's a Flash mess that's all style and no substance. Do you even offer a 36" stove? Who knows?

My little pile of ads that I so carefully tore out of Gourmet for research purposes is now headed to the recycling bin. I'm moving on to websites that actually provide information about the products I'm interested in.

Stainless steely yours,
-megnut

Since I missed so much stuff over the summer, you can expect some out-of-season links to appear over the next few weeks. Like this one: Maine may have lobsters, but if you’re looking for the quintessential fried clams, head straight to Massachusetts. I've been craving fried clams for ages and reading Peter Meehan's article about juicy Essex clams has sent me over the edge. Next time I visit Boston, I'm heading straight to Woodman's.

Chain consistency at the local Starbucks

StarbucksThere is only one Starbucks that I visit with any frequency, and it's one near my old apartment and around the corner from my gym. Over the years, I've thought about why I don't mind this Starbucks and I chalked it up to a familiarity with the staff. Last week I stopped in after my first visit to the gym in two months (yay!) to discover that it had been closed for a remodeling. And what I found was a completely changed store. Apparently the renovations entailed an update to the latest Starbucks concept in interior design.

As I stood there in line, taking in the rug, gold gilt mirror, and plush armchairs in one corner, and the mid-range restaurant upholstered booth in the other, I realized what had made this Starbucks different: It had developed the worn familiarity of a local coffeehouse. The few armchairs were shabby, the tables were always haphazardly arranged. The counter was banged up and the doors were chipped wood in need of attention. It was great.

But now it's got that circular Starbucks lighted sign in its window. They've redone the whole counter, changed where you pick up your drink, and installed a microwave so they can sell those wretched breakfast sandwiches. It's now just another Manhattan Starbucks. Everything that gave it its own identity and authenticity is now gone, and I haven't been back.

Ever since I've been thinking about if it's even possible to have an authentic experience at a chain. In order for the chain to succeed, it needs consistency both in product and in branding. This one, until recently, offered the consistent chain product. But the branding, at least in terms of store interior, was missing. Now that it's been restored, the spirit of the place is gone. I know consistency trumps authenticity when it comes to chains. It was foolish of me to develop feelings for that Starbucks because it seemed different than the others. Different can't survive when global sameness is the goal.

From August 31 comes this update on Alinea chef Grant Achatz from the Wall Street Journal. A team of doctors at the University of Chicago are trying to "cure the cancer using an atypical method of treatment" rather than the standard approach that could cause Grant to lose his sense of taste. Continuing wishes for a speedy recovery, Chef.

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